How to Become a Park Ranger Law Enforcement Officer

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Park rangers that work in law enforcement have the knowledge, training and authority to enforce state and federal laws within municipal, state and national parks.

Some state parks departments, such as the California Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation require all park rangers to be trained and certified as law enforcement/peace officers.

Within the National Park Service (NPS), a select group of park rangers serve in a protection/law enforcement capacity.

The Job Duties of Law Enforcement Rangers

Law enforcement rangers, like general park rangers, often have a strong knowledge of natural resource management, but they must also have a background that includes training and education in law enforcement.

Law enforcement rangers serve as the “eyes and ears” of the parks in which they work. This means they are knowledgeable of:

  • The park system and related rules and regulations within the park
  • Laws and regulations at the local, state and federal level
  • Basic law enforcement
  • Emergency operations

Law enforcement rangers are primarily responsible for providing law enforcement services, which often includes:

  • Detecting and investigating violations of local, state and/or federal criminal laws
  • Apprehending and detaining violators
  • Patrolling park grounds, enforcing park rules and regulations and protecting park resources
  • Providing search and rescue services
  • Assisting other law enforcement agencies
  • Responding to emergency incidents and providing emergency care

The daily job duties of a law enforcement ranger may include everything from responding to a crime in progress, to searching for a missing hiker.

Law enforcement rangers may patrol parklands on foot, using off-road vehicles, on horseback, in boats, or even on bicycles. Depending on the park environment and terrain, they may be called upon to patrol everything from remote backcountry trails to busy beaches and lakes. They may also spend a good deal of their time conducting surveillance or investigations into poaching or natural resource theft.

Education Requirements for Law Enforcement Rangers

The completion of college coursework or a degree program is often a preliminary requirement to becoming a law enforcement ranger. For example, applicants for NPS law enforcement ranger jobs without prior experience must possess a four-year degree from an accredited college or university that includes at least 24 semester hours of relevant coursework. Applicants with at least one year of experience at the GS-4 level can meet education requirements with two years of post-secondary study that includes at least 12 semester hours of relevant coursework.

Likewise, many states also require candidates to possess at least some type of formal education to qualify to take the state’s civil service exam. New York, for example, requires candidates to complete at least 60 college credit hours from an accredited college or university.

Just a few of the majors typically pursued by individuals interested in law enforcement ranger jobs include:

  • Criminal justice/police science
  • Park and recreation management
  • Sociology
  • Natural sciences
  • Earth sciences
  • Natural resource management
  • Resource conservation
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Wildlife management and enforcement

Training Requirements for Law Enforcement Rangers

Park rangers that serve in a law enforcement and protective capacity must meet additional requirements to become fully commissioned peace officers, which includes the completion of a law enforcement training academy.

Law enforcement ranger training academies offer programs designed to meet the specific requirements of the employer. This means that the National Park Service and each state parks department sponsors and sanctions its own training academy.

NPS Park Ranger Training

For example, year-round park rangers working in law enforcement with the National Park Service (NPS) must complete a 20-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. Seasonal law enforcement rangers with NPS must complete Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program (SLETP) through one of seven academies located around the country.

Federal Law Enforcement Training for Year-Round Law Enforcement Rangers – Curriculum in these programs includes both classroom and tactical training in areas such as federal law, pursuit driving, search and rescue, first aid, and defensive tactics, among others. Individuals who successfully graduate from FLETC training are authorized to carry firearms, make arrests, serve warrants, and conduct investigations.

Upon graduating from the FLETC training program, NPS park rangers must complete advanced field training, which consists of three-months of in-service training with a seasoned park ranger. In-service training may cover such topics as:

  • Emergency medical services
  • Search and rescue
  • Incident command
  • Wildland fires
  • Structural fires
  • Public services and safety topics

Seasonal Law Enforcement Training for Seasonal Law Enforcement Rangers – Seasonal Law Enforcement Training consists of at least 400 hours of coursework and practical training in the use of firearms, arrest procedures, execution of warrants and criminal investigations. It is worth noting that SLETP academies will involve at least 650 hours of coursework and practical training beginning in August of 2015.

Seasonal Law Enforcement Training programs are available through seven colleges located throughout the US:

  • Colorado Northwestern Community College (Rangely, CO)
  • Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff, AZ)
  • Santa Rose Junior College (Windsor, CA)
  • Skagit Valley College (Mount Vernon, WA)
  • Southwestern Community College (Franklin, NC)
  • Temple University (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Vermillion Community College (Ely, MN)
  • Interested candidates are encouraged to contact the nearest school for details on how to enroll.

State Park Ranger Training

Law enforcement rangers at the state level must typically complete a peace officer academy training program through an accredited college or university. For example, law enforcement rangers in Alabama must successfully complete an Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Act (APOST) academy.

Additional, in-house training following the completion of POST academy training is also commonplace. In New Jersey, for example, all new appointees must complete in-house training that covers communication and team building skills, customer service, domestic security, natural lands management, and standard operating procedures of the State Park Service.

Other training and certifications often required of law enforcement rangers include:

  • CPR
  • First aid
  • Oxygen administration
  • Automatic external defibrillator
  • Firearms

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